May 23, 2024
Martti Ahtisaari

Martti Ahtisaari: The president of Finland

Martti Ahtisaari served as the President of Finland from 2000 to 2012. He was a human rights activist who became a founding member of Helsinki Watch in 1978. He served as Executive Director from 1984 to 1990. When he was mandated by UN Secretary-General Javier Perez de Cuellar to lead the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara”.

About Martti Ahtisaari

Martti Oiva Kalevi Ahtisaari (born 23 July 1937 Helsinki) is a Finnish diplomat and the ninth President of Finland. He was a staunch anti-communist and is widely credited for bringing an end to the bloody Namibian War of Independence, which had been waged since 1966 between South Africa. Its allied Bantustan states on one side, and the nationalist Namibian resistance movement SWAPO, backed by Angola, Cuba, the Soviet Union and others. On 26 August 1988 SWAPO leader Sam Nujoma presented Ahtisaari with a letter signed by all thirteen members of the SWAPO Central Committee authorizing him to “conduct negotiations on our behalf regarding independence for Namibia.

Life of Ahtisaari

Childhood of Ahtisaari

Martti Ahtisaari was born to Kalevi Ahtisaari and Elsa Ahtikoski on 23 July 1937 in Helsinki. He grew up in the province of Southern Finland. He had an elder brother Ilkka and an elder sister Mirja. His parents were merchants. They owned a shop that specializes in selling women’s shoes. It was located just across the street from the Ahtikoski family home.


Ahtisaari went to elementary school in Karesuando and studied in Kemi from 1947 till 1954. He attended the Jyväskylä Lyceum from 1954 till 1955 before entering the University of Helsinki to study political science and graduated with a Master of Laws in 1960.

Ahtisaari became a member of the Social Democratic Party and served as chairman of its youth wing from 1959 to 1961. Prior to his graduation, he was selected as a member of the Young Scientists’ Association for the Advancement of Science. In 1960 he also became a member without dues of The Finnish Association for Nature Conservation.


Early Career

Ahtisaari began his legal career as an attorney with the Legal Aid Center of Helsinki from 1960 to 1963. Ahtisaari was a lawyer in the Office of the Attorney General in 1964 and worked for the Ministry for Foreign Affairs from 1966 to 1970.

He held diplomatic postings in Norway, Hungary and Sweden from 1970 until 1973 when he became political adviser on international issues for Prime Minister Mauno Koivisto.

He was appointing Ambassador to the Republic of Senegal and Gambia in 1974, followed by a posting as Ambassador to Portugal from 1978 until 1983.

Diplomatic career

Ahtisaari served as Chairman of the Board of Directors for the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) from 1984 until 1986. He was Secretary-General of the UN Conference on Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in 1992.

Ahtisaari was nominate as Deputy Secretary-General in January 1995 by Kofi Annan and took office on 1 November 1995. On 26 June 1997 he was reelected to a second six-year term, which ended on 31 December 2002. Whilst at the helm of UNO, Ahtisaari was a member of the Group of 77 (G77), an organization which advances economic policies that are inclusive and sustainable, representing 134 developing nations with populations exceeding two billion people.

Martti Ahtisaari

UN Peacekeeping Missions of Ahtisaari

Ahtisaari was a founding member of Helsinki Watch, part of Human Rights Watch now, in 1978. He led their campaigns against the use of mercenaries and against the Apartheid regime in South Africa. He has been a vocal opponent of the death penalty, as well as being a proponent of minority rights, self-determination, freedom of information and human rights education.

Ahtisaari played a crucial role in Namibia’s independence. He was appoint by United Nations Secretary-General Javier Pérez de Cuéllar to lead the United Nations Transition Assistance Group (UNTAG) for Namibia in late 1988.


When the independence of Namibia was achieve, the entire United Nations Security Council. Along with the majority of international observers. And human rights activists, called on South Africa to rescind its illegal partial occupation of the territory. Ahtisaari was named as “the key individual” in a joint proposal by the European Community (EC) and the African Union (AU). It was known as “Project Africa”, to negotiate a ceasefire. A peace treaty between UN forces and insurgent South African forces to establish independence for Namibia.


The Madrid Conference convened in 1991 at which Ahtisaari was President of the Conference. It resulted in the Lisbon Principles concerning post-conflict peace-building in Africa.

President of Finland

Ahtisaari was elected President of Finland on 25 May 2000.

Martti Ahtisaari is an honorary Doctor of Humanities, Diplomatic law and Sociology from the University of Helsinki. He has been award several decorations for his services to the UN. It include a UN Peace medal in recognition of his work in Namibia and a UN Efficiency Medal.  It was recognises and rewards excellence in management in the Secretariat, under-secretariat or international organisation. He also receive the Grand Decoration of Honour for Services to the Republic of Austria. As a result it was the highest honour that can be grant by that country. Ahtisaari is still an active member of the Finnish Parliament (Eduskunta).

Post-presidential career

Ahtisaari met with President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1965. He hosted the president of Finland and his delegation during a visit to the United States in the summer of 1966.

Ahtisaari was a member of the Finnish Government delegation for the funeral services for US President Ronald Reagan, who died on 5 June 2004. In 2005, he led one of two Finnish delegations (the other led by Kalevi Sorsa) that held talks with Iranian President Mohammad Khatami in Tehran on bilateral relations between their respective countries as well as on Iran’s nuclear programme and called for an easing of all trade sanctions against Iran to be lift immediately.

Syria conflict

Ahtisaari continued to be a leader in humanitarian aid to Syria. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and the Office of the United Nations Special Coordinator (UNSOCC) in Lebanon requested. They received government approval on 7 October 2012 to send humanitarian aid supplies destined for Syria.

Ahtisaari made his first official visit to Syria on 10 October 2012. Hence followed by a visit on 19 October 2012. And finally a visit with UN Representative in Damascus Dr Robert Serry on 20–21 October 2012. Therefore all these visits were design as regular “fact-finding missions” to assess the humanitarian situation in Syria. It including human rights issues.

Awards presented to Ahtisaari

On 26 November 2012, the Finnish Peace Foundation awarded Governor General of Finland Erkki Liikanen with an honorary doctorate degree in recognition of Martti Ahtisaari’s life achievement and international significance.

On 8 July 2013, the President of Finland and Speaker of Parliament Niinistö handed over a special medal to Ahtisaari at the Presidential Palace in Esplanadi, Helsinki. The medal was bestower as a mark of appreciation and congratulation for his service as UN Secretary-General.

In 2014, Martti Ahtisaari received the Order of Adbel Jalal al-Saleh by King Abdullah II Ta’u at the Royal Hashemite Court in Amman.

He also received the Nobel peace prize in 2008.


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